According to the United States Department of Education, all school-age children who have qualifying disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). While this seems like a simple concept, it often is not. Parents who have children with special needs are often confused about what their children's rights are and how to enforce those rights. The following FAPE checklist can help break down the requirements of FAPE and inform parents when the school district might not be providing what they are required to. After reviewing the FAPE checklist, if you believe your child is not receiving a free appropriate public education, consider contacting the Law Office of Paul A. Hefley, Jr., by calling (619) 764-6168.
What Is FAPE?
According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, all states are responsible for ensuring that all children between the ages of 3 and 21 (including those who have a disability) have a free appropriate public education available to them. FAPE entails the following:
- Free—Parents of children with disabilities cannot be charged for special education or related services that are part of their child's education program. However, they can be charged for extracurricular or sports fees that other parents are charged.
- Appropriate—An IEP must be prepared for students who receive special education services to ensure that their education matches their individual needs.
- Public—These rights are provided at public schools. Public elementary and secondary schools must put safeguards in place to properly identify, evaluate, and place students in special education services. If a school is incapable of providing an appropriate program, the school can place the student in another program, including in a private school that the school pays for.
- Education—Local education agencies that operate federally funded programs are required to provide education and related services free to students with qualifying disabilities. The education must match the state's standards as promulgated by the state's educational agency, which in turn must meet federal requirements.
Under FAPE, parents are allowed to participate in the process and have due process rights and procedures if their FAPE rights are denied.
Consider the questions in the following checklist to determine if a child is receiving FAPE as required by the law.
Are Students with Disabilities Properly Identified, Evaluated, and Placed?
Federal law requires that public schools properly identify, evaluate, and place students with disabilities or who are believed to have disabilities and may require special education and related services. They must create procedural safeguards to accomplish these objectives, and parents must be informed of these safeguards. Parents must be notified of any evaluation or placement action and have the right to challenge these decisions. If parents disagree with a decision of this nature, they must be allowed to have an impartial due process hearing to address the matter and determine whether the school has offered a FAPE. The parents can participate and be represented by legal counsel during this hearing.
Are Special Education Services Based on the Student's Individual Needs?
Once the student is placed in special education services, the services must be targeted to meet the child's individual needs and not based only on the student's disability. This is accomplished by creating an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and implementing it throughout the curriculum.
Are the Student's Needs All Incorporated into the IEP?
The student should be accurately evaluated to determine his or her individual needs. These needs should then be identified in the student's IEP. The school may have IEP procedures that they must follow to ensure that the student receives a FAPE. The IEP should clearly indicate the special education and related services that will the student to access their educational program and receive educational benefit.
Does the IEP Provide for Supplementary Aids and Services?
Supplementary aids and services are often critical in helping students be successful in the public-school environment. They may include aids, services, and other supports in regular education classes and other education-related settings that allow children with special needs to be educated with children who do not have disabilities.
Supplementary aids and services can include accommodations to the curriculum, the method of instruction, direct services to the child, support or training for staff who educate the child, and other forms of support. Examples of common supplementary aids and services include:
- Preferential seating in the classroom, lunchroom, and bus
- Provision for a classroom companion
- Behavioral specialist support
- Wheelchair, software, or communication devices
- More time provided to complete assignments
- Scanned notes or outlines from teachers
- Shorter assignments or lessons broken down into steps for easier understanding
- Adaptations to testing
- Use of cooperative learning groups
- Teacher training
- Assistive technology
Are All Supplementary Aids and Services Provided for Free?
Even if required supplementary aids and services are expensive and make the cost to educate a student with special needs higher than the cost to educate a student without special needs, these costs cannot be passed on to the family.
Does the Student Have the Same Rights and Privileges as Other Students?
Students with disabilities must have access to the same opportunities and have the same rights and privileges as students who do not have disabilities. This includes academic, nonacademic, and extracurricular activities.
Does the IEP Contain Annual Goals that Address Each Area of Need?
The IEP is a living document that has goals outlined in it. The student is expected to make progress toward these goals. The goals should be measurable. The services outlined in the IEP should be targeted to help meet the goals.
Is Progress Properly Documented?
The progress the student makes should be properly monitored and documented in the student's educational records. If the student is not making adequate progress toward the goals, the goals or IEP, including services or educational placement, may need to be revised.
Does the IEP Properly Reflect the Concerns of Parents and Others?
The IEP should also document parental concerns and address them. Additionally, others who have concerns about the student's education—teachers, psychologists, guidance counselors, etc.—should also be included in the IEP.
Contact a Special Education Lawyer for Help
If you have reviewed the preceding FAPE checklist and still have questions about whether your child is receiving a fair appropriate public education, consider contacting a special education lawyer with the Law Office of Paul A. Hefley, Jr., for help. You can set up a confidential consultation by calling (619) 764-6168.